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What Massachusetts Workers Should Know About Occupational Hearing Loss

Workers in Massachusetts who have suffered work-related hearing loss should file a claim for workers’ compensation. Usually when a layman thinks of workers’ compensation he or she thinks about falls or amputations or other dramatic injuries. But surprisingly, the Center for Disease Control reports that occupational hearing loss, rather than falls or back injuries, is the most frequent occupational injury in the United States.

About 22 million United States workers are exposed to dangerous levels of noise while working and, of those, ten million people have hearing loss caused by hazardous noise levels at work. About $242 million must be spent per year on workers’ compensation for hearing loss disability on a national level.

The loudness of sound is measured in decibels, which are logarithmic units. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recommends that noise should be below 85 dBA in order to minimize the amount of hearing loss in any given work place. This is louder than a normal conversation, around the level of sound you encounter in traffic. As a further point of reference, a large truck 5 yards away comes across at 90 decibels, while a jackhammer 3 feet away comes in at 120 decibels.

The maximum exposure to 85 decibels should be 8 hours, or the average workday. Repeated exposure to more than this level or this level for prolonged periods could lead to hearing loss. Signs that a workplace is too noisy include: you hear ringing or humming in your ears once you leave the work environment, you have to shout to be heard by your coworkers who are just an arm’s length away, or if you experience temporary hearing loss whenever you leave work.

In what jobs is hearing loss most common? The CDC reports that in 2007, about workers in the manufacturing sector accounted for 82% of cases involving occupational hearing loss. These include primary metal manufacturing, food manufacturing, paper manufacturing, fabricated metal product manufacturing, transportation materials manufacturing, textile mills, furniture manufacturing and plastics manufacturing. Hearing loss accounts for 1 in 9 recordable illnesses in the manufacturing industries.

Of these job areas, primary metal manufacturing had the highest rate of hearing loss and air transportation had the second highest rate of hearing loss. With respect to the latter category, this is made up not only of flight attendants or pilots, but also baggage handlers and mechanics. Other occupations that might put workers at higher risk of occupational hearing loss are loggers or professional disc jockeys.

Some hearing loss is temporary, especially if exposure to noise occurs in the short-term. A worker just needs time away from the job for his hearing to return. Some hearing loss can be corrected with a hearing aid.

But a significant number of workers experience permanent hearing loss that cannot be corrected through surgery or a hearing aid. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that in 2009 there were more than 21,000 permanent hearing loss cases.

Unfortunately, noise induced hearing loss can have terrible ramifications for ordinary living making it difficult to hear warning signs, understand speech or communicate. It can also cause psychological stress and reduce worker productivity.

If you have experienced hearing loss due to a loud workplace, you may be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits. Ask the experienced Massachusetts workers’ compensation attorneys at Kantrovitz & Associates for help filing a claim. Call us at 617-367-0880 or contact us via our online form.

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